The Little Details Don’t Always Matter

In the south of Chile, in the region of Patagonia, the Gauchos roast whole lambs over open wood fires.

My wife is from this part of Chile, and in the 20 years that I have been visiting there, I have been treated to these lamb barbecues many dozens of times by her brother Pito, among others. The lambs are split and butterflied across a stick that is driven into the ground and leaned over the open fire. They are roasted slow, over 4 or 5 hours, and turned at least once, until the ribs are crackling brown and dripping hot fat into the coals.

Like American BBQ, there is a lot of pride and expertise involved in managing the fire through the cook and then chopping up the lamb with a heavy knife and passing out the hot salty meat to family and friends. I always preferred a rib.

On one family camping trip we brought two fresh lambs, but Pito, who usually cooked the lambs, wasn’t with us. I either volunteered or was appointed to cook the lambs – but it was with very low expectations on the part of my hosts, as it was pretty well understood that a gringo would not be able to cook these lambs.

Also, since we were camping, I had to make the whole setup from scratch: cutting poles out of the woods to mount the lambs, finding the location protected from wind, using available fire wood.

It was a long hot day for me, but by evening my lambs were finished, and finished well. Crispy meat, not burned, the fat liquid but not rendered. I found a pair of heavy gloves to wear while I laid out the lambs and chopped up pieces with a big knife and enjoyed the (surprised) praise of my in-laws as they lined up for meat.

Soon, however, a few people noticed that the gloves I had found were the gloves one of the cousins used when he was cleaning out clogged sewers. Everyone was relieved that the Gringo had screwed up the lamb after all.

They still finished the meat.

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